At the core of Milton Avery's art is his ability to modernize a familiar domestic scene by transforming it into a carefully orchestrated arrangement of color and pattern. His subjects, whether objects or people, are translated into Avery's unique lexicon of shapes and forms that fit together to become a cohesive whole.
Using this basic format, Avery produced oils and watercolors for over three decades. "Throughout the thirty-five years of Avery's mature career -- from 1930 to 1965 -- his work was largely divided between quiet, contemplative scenes of the natural world and depictions of family and friends playing games, making music, painting, reading, and relaxing at the beach. Regarding Avery's consistent focus on these familiar subjects, Hilton Kramer wrote: 'His wit preserves their freshness, while his elegance confers on them a kind of lyric beauty one normally expects to find in a subject encountered for the first time'" (B.L. Grad, Milton Avery, Royal Oak, Michigan, 1981, p. 1)
The 1940s were an extremely important phase of Milton Avery's career. By 1943, Avery was exhibiting his work with Paul Rosenberg & Co., the prestigious modern art dealer, and by 1944, Avery's works were also being exhibited at the New York branch of Paris-based Durand-Ruel Galleries. "Avery's prestige reached a new plateau. . . Maude Riley summed up Avery's reputation: 'After remaining unnoticed for a good many years Milton Avery has of late become a sort of institution. No one remains ignorant of his past; and while enthusiasm varies, a general cordiality prevails in regard to this innocently sophisticated form of picture making.'" (B. Haskell, Milton Avery, New York, 1982, pp. 77-80)
Instead of sticking with a successful formula, Avery expanded upon it. "As the forties advanced, Avery's concentration on color and the simplification of shapes became increasingly intense. As before, color created the dominant impression and set the emotional tone, but now Avery's choices of colors and their combination became more striking and daring. Multiple layers of pigment were blended together into evenly toned areas marked by Avery's unmistakable color sense. Within these barely modulated color planes Avery created textures by scratching into the paint with a fork or razor, a process which reduced illusionistic recession by calling attention to the two-dimensional surface of the canvas." (B. Haskell, Milton Avery, p. 108)
A classic work from that late 1940s, Avery has cleverly imbued The Musicians with a lyrical sense of music and motion. He has chosen a warm palette of reds, oranges, pinks, and purples that he complements with shades of white, gray and blue. The subjects sit on a bright red settee with a bold black frame. The pattern and bright colors take on an expressive quality: the dark purple carpet swirled with white pattern sets off each wall featuring different patterns - one geometric, the other more organic. The two subjects balance each other - one in warm browns, while the other is delineated in cooler whites. Avery's hallmark network of patterns lends an expressive and melodious feeling to the work, from the wall behind the subjects to the sheets of music on the table.
This work will be included in Dr. Marla Price's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the works of Milton Avery.